Four Dividend Plays To Pad Your Portfolio

By Billy Fisher | August 12, 2009 AAA

With the recent economic downturn, dividends quickly went out of style. Dividends were among the first items to be cut by companies in a cash crunch, or those unaccustomed to experiencing net losses or declining sales. Although there are fewer dividend payers today than there were a couple of years ago, there are some pretty good ones that still exist. Here are four promising stocks with healthy dividend yields for income investors to consider.

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Still Smoking
With a dividend yield of 7.6%, Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) is one of the most attractive dividend plays at the moment. The company has been consistent in its dividend payments for many years and is positioned in a sector that is largely immune to surrounding economic conditions. Although cigarette shipment volumes have been decreasing in the U.S., Reynolds American has been able to offset this trend with price hikes and growth from its smokeless tobacco business segment, Conwood.

The company is coming off of a strong Q2 in which EPS were up 4.9%, and the company also was able to up its full-year forecast. Conwood had a record quarter in terms of volume and market share. Operating margins were up in both the cigarette and smokeless tobacco segments. Year-to-date shares of Reynolds American have risen 10.9%.

While some companies have been slashing dividends, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) has been doing the opposite. It upped its quarterly dividend by 7% last fall, and currently carries a yield of 6%. The company is still experiencing strong customer growth in its wireless business and its FiOS Internet and TV segments continue to snatch up additional market share. Verizon rival AT&T (NYSE:T) also has an impressive dividend yield of 6.5%.

Souped-Up Yields
The London-based integrated oil and gas company BP (NYSE:BP) kept its dividend unchanged when it reported it Q2 results at the end of July. Common shares of BP are yielding 6.6% right now. The company is coming off a quarter in which quarterly profits fell 53% on lower oil prices. BP still managed to surpass expectations and has seen its stock price climb 7.5% so far this year.

An interesting development for BP occurred this summer when it secured a contract with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to help the company increase the current production at its Rumaila oil field. The terms of the deal were not enough to attract many other takers in the bidding process, but it will be the first time that the country has opened its oil industry to foreign investment since it was nationalized more than 30 years ago.

Another energy company with a high powered dividend yield is Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK). The utility company has seen its stock price remain relatively flat this year, but still maintains a 6.2% dividend yield. Earlier this month, Duke Energy reported Q2 EPS that were consistent with prior year despite a decrease in electricity sales. The company has taken an aggressive cost control stance in an effort to keep earnings steady until energy prices recover.

The Bottom Line
Dividends are becoming a lost art in this tough market, but there are still some appealing options for income investors looking for steady dividend streams to boost total returns. These are just a few of the survivors. Investors should do their homework to make sure that potential investments have sustainable dividends, and don't just have high yields because a dividend cut is believed to be right around the corner. (Read Dividend Facts You May Not Know to learn how dividends can sometimes complicate things for investors.)

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